"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: November 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nigeria-India Relational Tension, Northern Nigeria, and Nigerian Unity

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Since writing about the tensile stress in the relations between Nigeria and India consequent upon the coldblooded murder of a Nigerian in the Indian state of Goa, I continue to receive a steady stream of emails from Indians and Nigerians, and feel compelled to share more thoughts on the issue.

First, it was not I who called India the most racist society on earth; it was a study by two Swedish economists that reached that conclusion. I should perhaps add that I have many Indian friends here in the United States who are some of the most tolerant and benign people anyone can ever wish to meet. Many of them, in fact, wrote to express outrage that Nigerians are at the receiving end of racist brutality in a part of their country. I certainly didn’t intend to be understood as implying that all Indians are xenophobic brutes.

Second, when I called India the “leader of the Third World,” I used “Third Word” not as an economic or developmental category (although that’s the term’s dominant signification in contemporary usage), but as a political category to refer to countries that were neither ideologically affiliated with the West nor with the East in the heyday of the Cold War. That’s the original meaning of the term, and India was at the vanguard of the Third World movement in the Cold War era. So I was bemused that Indians would throw around the term “Third World” as an insult.

Third, although irrational resentment against dark-skinned Africans is a worldwide scourge, many Africans have an expectation of hospitality—or at the very least tolerance— in India for at least two reasons. The first reason is that India has more dark-skinned people than any country on earth. There are over 200 million dark-skinned people in the country. That is more than the population of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

 But dark-skinned Indians are despised and consigned to the bottom of the totem pole.  That perhaps explains why Africans get short shrift from Indians. (Aljazeera recently did an in-depth report titled “Africans decry ‘discrimination’ in India” on the widespread anti-African bigotry in India). Africans are considered no different from—or maybe even inferior to— the over 200 million dark-skinned Indians that the dominant Indian culture has treated as sub-humans for millennia.  Thankfully, I am told that this attitude is changing slowly in urban India.
Late Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’ adua and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Nonetheless, in India, “white” is still not only might, but also always right. That’s why, although even the Indian news media habitually report that Israelis and Russians dominate drug trafficking in Goa, India, citizens of Israel and Russia have never been called “cancers,” and there have never been xenophobic billboards condemning everybody from these countries.  In fact, a December 29, 2012 report in the Times of India said “Russian, Israeli and local drug lords apparently [enjoy] immunity [from prosecution], allegedly due to a police-drug mafia nexus.”

Now, this is not by any means a defense or extenuation of the involvement of Nigerians in drug trafficking and other scams in India and elsewhere. I am troubled by and acknowledge the fact that few Nigerians are indeed involved in drug trafficking and Internet scams India, but it would be nice if the crimes committed by these few Nigerians are not used as a basis to judge the rest of us—the same way that Indians don’t condemn all Israelis and Russians because few people from these countries dominate the narcotic trade in their country.

The second reason that Nigerians, especially some northern Nigerians, were disillusioned by the blanket ill-treatment of Nigerians in India, particularly the rhetorical violence directed at Nigerians in online comments, is that northern Nigerians feel a deep, if unrequited, cultural affinity with India. A lot of us grew up watching Bollywood movies and found many cultural convergences between the portrayals of Hindu culture in Bollywood movies and northern Nigerian culture. That is why Kanywood, the northern Nigerian movie industry that sprang forth from Kano, is little more than an inept, dewy-eyed mimicry of Bollywood. 

In addition to the wild popularity of Indian movies in northern Nigeria, many Nigerians have related with Indians in Nigeria as high school teachers (in the 1970s and 1980s), classmates, etc.

I encountered my first Indian when I was only 5. His name was Job, and he was my classmate in Baptist Primary School in my home town of Okuta in the Baruten Local Government area of Kwara State (which was then called Borgu Local Government). Job’s father was a Baptist missionary who lived in the same missionary quarters with a Paul Burkwall, an American Baptist missionary whose son, David, was also my classmate.

As children, we couldn’t tell Job from David. We called both of them “bature bibu,” Baatonu for “white children.” One day, Job told me he wasn’t a “bature bii,” that is, a “white child”; he said he was “Indian.” It didn’t make any sense to me at the time because I couldn’t tell him apart from David, a white American kid. It was not until I advanced to primary six and started watching Indian films that it all came together for me. 

The point of this recollection is to show the cultural and emotional affinity many Nigerians, especially northern Nigerians, feel toward Indians. (Although my part of Nigeria is in Kwara State in north-central Nigeria, it is actually culturally indistinguishable from the far north). Until fairly recently, Indian movie stars—and by extension Indians in general—were the standard for measuring or talking about beauty in northern Nigeria. Expressions like “she is so beautiful you would think she’s an Indian” were common when I was growing up, and they were informed by the exaggeratedly sanitized portrayals of India and Indians in the Bollywood movies we consumed. (Many northerners often feel a deep cognitive dissonance when they see everyday Indians in international TV news looking radically different from the notion of the perfect Indian that they had been led to internalize by Bollywood).

So I wasn’t surprised by the ambivalent reactions that my article elicited from my northern Nigerian readers. Some of my readers were indifferent to the hostility against Nigerians in Goa because the Nigerians that were brutalized are from the south whom they said deserved what they got. But, then, many Indian commenters called these “southern Nigerians” Boko Haram muzzie terrorists who are involved in drug trade and Internet scam to fund terrorism in the service of Islam. Uh-oh! And, of course, southern Nigerians who like to malign northerners as Boko Haram terrorists saw that Indian commenters called southern Nigerians with names like “Simon” Boko Haram terrorists. 

Lesson: non-Nigerians who want to stereotype us don’t care a tinker’s damn which part of Nigeria we come from. Outside Nigeria, a Christian southerner is as likely to be stereotyped as a Boko Haram terrorist as a northern Muslim is likely to be tagged a drug trafficker or an Internet scammer.
If this is not enough reason to put our house in order and overcome our own internal bigotry, I don’t know what is.

Related Articles:
Nigerians as Endangered Species in India 
Re: Nigerians as Endangered Species in India

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Re: Nigerians as Endangered Species in India

Last week’s article with the above title provoked a rash of raw passions among a broad swath of Nigerians. Unfortunately, for reasons of space, I am only able to share just a few of the torrents of reactions I received. Enjoy!

Since I arrived in India in January this year I have not faced any overt form of racism or discrimination. I don't know what is done or said behind my back, but my classmates, teachers and fellow students on campus have been very cordial. In fact they are overly sympathetic as if the image of their country hangs on how well they treat me in particular, and as if they are compensating with extra kindness for what they think I should be missing as a foreigner. "Are you bored?", "do you like our food?", "how do you find this place?", etc., they would ask so frequently that I felt I must have looked so weak or miserable and was being turned into an object of pity, and decided I needed to liberate myself from their "crippling" kindness by projecting an image of a happy, tough and comfortable foreigner. Most of them don't even think highly enough of their country to even contemplate looking down on others.

 Some professors here wondered aloud why I did not go Europe or America for my PhD. This is clearly the attitude of an educated person who lives on a university campus and who is conscious of the place of his country as a sea of Third World with sprinklings of First World features here and there—seen in some of Indian hospitals, factories, laboratories, agricultural practices, space stations, etc. Partly because of xenophobia, ignorance and the rigid caste system in Hinduism, attitudes outside the confines of a university, in the larger society, may differ as we have seen in recent happenings in Goa. It would not be in India's interest for its citizens to treat foreigners badly because India stands to lose much more if other countries retaliate.

 Living abroad is a familiar turf to Indians. Many students have asked me if they would get jobs in my country. Their country has more manpower than it needs or is capable of accommodating now. A professor here told us there would be serious crisis of unemployment if all the millions of Indians living abroad were to return home. There is a category of Indians officially identified as NRI (Non-Resident Indians)—Indians who live abroad and maintain some link with their country of origin. They are clearly better off than the average Indian, and when they come home as students they are made to pay more in school fees, perhaps because they don't pay taxes to the Indian government.

 Murderers, drug peddlers and other criminals should be treated as individuals not as members of a nationality. Criminals everywhere should be defined by what they do, not who they are or what they are. This view may be simplistic when diplomacy intervenes in a tribalistic way to defend the interests of compatriots living abroad. It is instructive that the Nigerians who had rightly protested the brutal murder of their compatriot suddenly disappeared on the streets of Goa when the police turned their searchlights on illegal immigrants. And the fact that there is no police record of the involvement in drug-related offences of the murdered Nigerian is not a sufficient proof that the victim was not a member of a drug gang. Drug dealers are notorious for settling their conflicts themselves in their own ways without involving the police. Imagine a drug dealer reporting to the police that a fellow drug dealer has double-crossed him!

There are important lessons in these incidents: we Nigerians should keep our house in order, we should respect each other and generally treat each other well at home, create opportunities for our youths at home, and generally govern our country well. For example, none of the Indian universities is in the category of the top 200 in the world rankings (a few are found in the top 400), but a Nigerian must be deeply impressed with how universities are managed here especially with regard to funding of research and provision of laboratory facilities.

You would understand ASUU better when you come here. Our maltreatment is not limited to India. My colleagues in Malaysia tell me they face discrimination in public places because of the crimes of their compatriots in that country. Some of them had to buy cars to transport themselves to the campus because they could not stand the vicious snobbery and discrimination meted out to them in public buses.
Abdulrahman Muhammad, Ludhiana, Punjab, India

What about Indians in Nigeria? Are they not also involved in high-profile economic crimes in cahoots with our leaders? Even in the era of the Chagourys scandal, Nigerian did not show any xenophobic hatred towards Indians. it is a pity that our citizens are involved in survival crimes in foreign lands, which most times are small-scale, while foreigners in our shores are involved in big-time organized economic crimes, but due to the weakness of our enforcement system and the protection accorded these foreigners over here, nobody talks about their criminal activities.

Indians and Lebanese are also involved in criminal activities all over the world. If the attacks continue and our government is compelled to reciprocate they will realize how much they have also benefited from the Nigerian economy where they use our citizens as slave labourers without complying with basic safety standards. But, in all, I blame our past leaders who have failed to develop our economy for production. I believe that if we succeed in entrenching fiscal federalism Nigeria’s production capacity will be unleashed and Nigerians will no longer be treated like vermin in useless foreign countries like India!
Razaaq Musa, Abuja

I want to commend you for an excellent write-up as always (your column being one of the major reasons I buy Weekly Trust every weekend). However, when I come across such xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, I mostly blame our leaders for failing to provide a conducive environment for the majority of our people to stay within the country despite the abundant resources the God has blessed us with. It is a pity.
Yusuf Adamu (adamu_ysf@yahoo.co.uk)

I read your article with rapt attention and interest because it captures what I as black Nigerian pilgrim experienced in Saudi Arabia during the just concluded Hajj. I want to tell you that even the Indian Muslims are racists and bigots. It is really appalling that racial prejudices should guide our thoughts at this age.
Muhammad Abdullahi (sarkimaje@yahoo.com)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nigerians as Endangered Species in India

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

It is dangerous to be a Nigerian in a part of India called Goa, described by Wikipedia as India’s smallest but richest state. It is also probably one of India’s most xenophobic states.

On October 30 this year, a Nigerian by the name of Obodo Uzoma Simon was murdered in cold blood by a gang of Indian brutes for no apparent reason. But the Indian press, taking cues from their local politicians, immediately associated the murder with a drug deal gone bad. Well, this turned out to be false, as you will see shortly.

A day after the murder, about 200 Nigerians in Goa staged a raucous protest to register their outrage. They wanted the murderer of their compatriot to be brought to justice and for Nigerian consular officers in India to supervise an autopsy of his corpse. While I admit that the manner of the protest (smashing road dividers, threatening police officers, dumping Simon’s corpse in the middle of the highway and halting traffic for hours on end, etc.) was condemnable and unacceptable, the reaction of Indians to the protest has been even more disconcerting.

First, after the protest, scores of Nigerians were arbitrarily arrested and clamped in jail. After this string of arrests, on the instruction of the police and politicians in Goa, landlords ejected all “black” people, not just Nigerians, from their apartments. According to the Times of India, “a resolution [was] passed by a local panchayat headed by the wife of a BJP legislator, Michael Lobo, banning Nigerians” from living in Goa.

“My landlord said all the 'blacks' had to be evicted on police instructions,” a 24-year-old Nigerian by the name of Chioma Ghansoli told the Times of India. “I have nowhere to go in Goa.  Me and my friends will spend the night at the beach tonight with our luggage." Talk of guilt by association.

In justifying the onslaught on Nigerians, an Indian minister by the name of Dayanand Mandrekar told local Indian media that “Nigerians are like cancer” that must be eradicated from India. In the wake of this thinly veiled call to mass murder, a video surfaced on YouTube of a Nigerian being savagely clobbered with unspeakable barbarity by a bloodthirsty Indian mob. (See the video below).

We have no idea how many other Nigerians have been lynched in Goa because, well, there are almost no Nigerians in Goa now. But when a government minister describes an entire nationality as a “cancer,” it is reasonable that the vulgar herd will interpret him as giving them the license to cut off (read: slaughter) the “cancerous” people. The only thing cancer is good for is total annihilation.
Dayanand Mandrekar: "Nigerians are like cancer."
When Indians are not lynching “cancerous” Nigerians physically in Goa, they turn to the Internet to accomplish this. The comments on news articles involving Nigerians on Indian websites are some of the most nakedly negrophobic hate-fest I’ve ever seen in my life. Nigerians are called monkeys, niggers, wild animals, sub-humans, Third World scum (as if India isn’t the leader of the Third World), and such other dehumanizing and unmentionable epithets. 

The undiluted racist hate against Nigerians in India isn’t merely spewed under the pseudonymic cover of the Internet; even billboards revile and demean Nigerians. A particularly jarring billboard prominently displayed in a Goa town, which a Nigerian living in India called to my attention to, has the following inscription: “Say No To Nigerian (sic), Say No to Drugs.”

Apparently, because a few Nigerians living in India engage in drug trafficking, all Nigerians have been tarred with the same xenophobic broad brush. Well, it turned out, as I said earlier, that the Nigerian whose murder is the trigger for the rash of racist assaults against Nigerians in India was never involved in drugs, contrary to the claims of the Indian press, local police and politicians. 

According to the November 11 edition of the Times of India, investigations have concluded that “There is not a single drug related case filed against Nigerian national Obado [sic] Uzoma Simeon who was murdered on the intervening night of October 30 to 31 at Parra.” Yet, Indians still repeat the canard that Simon (or is it Simeon?), who was ferociously stabbed more than 25 times, was murdered by rival Indian drug lords. (Oh, so Indians also do drugs? I thought only Nigerians did!)

All this doesn’t surprise me, frankly. India is an inexorably racist society.  According to a global survey conducted in October this year, India ranks as the most racist country on earth. The survey measured racial intolerance by how “frequently people in a given country said they don't want neighbors from other races.”  India’s racial intolerance, according to the survey, is equaled only by Jordan. (The most racially tolerant societies, the survey found, are the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Australia, and New Zealand.)

The current anti-Nigerian hysteria in India is fueled by two strains of bigotry in the Indian society: a lethal mixture of visceral negrophobia and Islamaphobia. India has a well-known, age-old problem with dark skin, a problem that is congealed in the country’s invidious caste system.  Even dark-skinned Indians from the country’s south are often the victims of racist taunts and denigration, and Africans, according to many Indians who spoke frankly with me, are considered ugly, undesirable, and worthy only of ice-cold disdain. 

India is, without a doubt, a terrible place for a black person to call home.

It’s even more terrible if the black person is also a Muslim. As a consequence of India’s continuing bitter animosities with Pakistan, many, perhaps most, Indians gaze at Muslims from the jaundiced lenses of their troubled relations with Pakistanis and instinctively assume that every Muslim is a Hindu-hating enemy. Of course, this is not true of all Indians, but it is true of most of them.

For anecdotal evidence, look at the comment sections of India’s English-language news websites about Nigerians. (I hear that the local-language websites are way worse). You will find a disproportionate percentage of commenters claiming that Nigerians are doing drugs to fund terrorism against Indians. Many commenters on TimesofIndia.com and other Indian websites also described Nigerians in Goa, including the late Simeon, as “Boko Haram terrorists”! Yet others called them “muzzies,” apparently a pejorative term for Muslims in India. 

The Indians couldn’t be bothered that the people they call “Boko Haram terrorists” and “muzzies” are Christian Nigerians. You would think that a name like “Simon” would at least make that clear to them. Well, as I pointed out in a previous article three years ago, stereotyping is a great time saver; it enables ignorant and bigoted people to rush to quick judgment without the pesky encumbrance of nuance and factual information.

From what I can gather, it is now open season on Nigerians in Goa. Unspeakable atrocities are being committed against innocent Nigerians there. The Indian and Nigerian governments must act expeditiously to halt this madness. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Q and A on Religious English, Usage and Punctuation

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Is it “Moslem” or “Muslim”? Are the expressions “remain blessed” or “stay blessed” uniquely Nigerian? Can “guys” be used to refer to both men and women? Is “majorly” a legitimate word? You will find answers to these and many other questions in this week’s edition of my Q and A series.

A Muslim friend of mine took offence when I spelled Muslim as Moslem. I told him Moslem is the accepted English spelling and that Muslim is the Arabic rendition. Since I am speaking or writing English I thought I should use the accepted English spelling. Can you help me educate my friend?

Your friend may be a little too thin-skinned for his own good if he takes offense at the mere (mis)spelling of a word, but his objection to the spelling of “Muslim” as “Moslem” has basis in modern English. Most modern dictionaries and style guides now prefer “Muslim” to “Moslem.”  The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, says “Muslim is the preferred spelling for a ‘follower of Islam’….The archaic term Muhammadan (or Mohammedan) …should be avoided.”

The 2013 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook, America’s most prestigious journalistic style guide, also writes: “Muslims [is] the preferred term to describe adherents of Islam.” Finally, in their book Longman Guide to English Usage, Professors Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, two of Britain’s most celebrated grammarians, wrote: “The adherents of Islam are now usually referred to as Muslims, rather than the older form Moslems.”

So, in essence, many educated native speakers of the English language no longer spell Muslim as “Moslem.” This change is a response to the preference of Muslims. Related spellings that have changed over the years are Qur’an (instead of the now archaic “Koran”) and Muhammad (instead of “Mohammed” or the older, more archaic “Mahomet”). The changes are also a response to the preferences of Muslims, although many Muslims still spell Muhammad as “Mohammed” even in the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam.

I have a question for your column. "Stay blessed" and "remain blessed," are these Nigerian expressions? What are about "journey mercies"?

“Stay blessed” or “remain blessed” (sometimes incorrectly written as “stay bless” or “remain bless”) are not exactly uniquely Nigerian English expressions, but Nigerians use them way more frequently than native English speakers do. These expressions, which are often used to sign off letters and emails, are scarcely used by the general populations in America and Britain. Only very religious, compulsively churchgoing people in America, and perhaps Britain, use them. The general populations in America and Britain end their emails with expressions like “kind regards,” “best,” “best wishes,” “take care,” etc.

The expression “I wish you journey mercies” is also church lingo in America. The general population says “I wish you a safe trip” or just “have a safe trip.” Before writing this response, I asked a number of Americans if they would understand me if I said “journey mercies” to them. Of the 10 or so people I asked, only one had any clue what the expression meant, and that one person is a churchgoer who said she would never use the expression in everyday settings.

But Nigerians are overtly, some would say overly, religious people, and this reflects in their language use.

I have two questions. First, is there a word like "majorly"? I have been unable to find it in any of the dictionaries available to me. Second, does one move the adoption of the minutes of a meeting or move for the adoption?

Yes, “majorly” is a legitimate word. It means extremely, mainly, chiefly, etc. Examples of the word’s usage in my dictionary are: “majorly successful," "I feel majorly better," "he is majorly interested in butterflies." The reason you don’t find the word in basic dictionaries is that it’s a relatively recent word. It was formed first as a slang term in the US and Canada in the 1980s, but it’s now used and accepted across all the major varieties of English. In fact, Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest-surviving and most prestigious dictionary in the English language, has an entry for the word.

 To answer your second question, one moves a motion for the adoption of the minutes of a meeting.

I’m a student in Nigeria. I often hear my colleagues use “guys” to refer to for both genders. My question is: is the word conventionally accepted for both genders in America?

The straightforward answer is yes. The singular form of the word, that is, “guy,” is an informal term reserved only for a man, as in “He is a really great guy.” But the plural form of the word, that is, “guys,” can be, and is often, used to refer to men alone, women alone, and men and women combined. Women here in America frequently say “let’s get going, guys!” when they address an all-female company. And it is conventional to refer to a mix-gender company as “guys.”

My students and I actually discussed this issue extensively two weeks ago during a class on gendered language in the news media. At least two things came out from the discussion. First, “guys” has not always been used to refer to both men and women; its use as gender-neutral plural is a relatively recent semantic evolution. Second, the use of “guys” to refer to people of either gender first took roots in northern United States before it crossed over to the South. One of my students said her parents told her one of the definitive shibboleths (that is, a manner of speaking that marks people out) of Yankees (as people from the American south call their northern compatriots) was their tendency to use “guys” where southerners would say “you all” (often pronounced “y’all”).

But it’s important to note that in modern informal English, in both America and Britain, it’s now wholly legitimate to use “guys” to refer to either gender. This sense of the word has already been captured even in the Oxford English Dictionary.

What grammatical rules are responsible for the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of some compound nouns /words/expressions such as: backbone, back-breaking, birthmark, birthplace, blood-red, etc.?

Hyphens perform many functions in written English, but for reasons of space and time I will touch on only a few of them.

 First, hyphens are joiners; they help form new words by joining words that are traditionally different into a single word. For example, what used to be “electronic mail” up until the 1980s became “e-mail” in the 1990s, and “email” in most dictionaries in the later part of the 2000s. Similarly, the words “proof” and “read” were hyphenated to form “proof-read.” Now, there is no hyphen in the word: it’s correctly spelled “proofread.”

It helps to note, though, that unlike other punctuation marks, there are no standard, universal rules for hyphenating words. Different style guides have different rules about hyphenation. In general, however, hyphenation is used to avoid ambiguity. For example, the hyphen helps us differentiate between the words “recover” and “re-cover.” While “recover” can mean recoup, recuperate, or get back (as in “he recovered from his illness”), “re-cover” means to cover again (as in, “he re-covered the table after the wind blew the tablecloth away”).

Second, the hyphen is used to avoid what the Associated Press Stylebook calls “duplicated vowels” such as “anti-intellectual” and “pre-empt,” or tripled consonants such as “shell-like.” However, some words with duplicated vowels, such as “cooperate,” are not hyphenated by some style guides.

Third, in forming what grammarians call compound modifiers, hyphens are indispensable. Compound modifiers are two or more words that act like an adjective and appear before a noun. Examples: the good-for-nothing governor of my state, little-known heroes, etc.

On the bodies of tankers carrying fuel in Nigeria, we often see the inscriptions “Highly Inflammable” or “Highly flammable.” Which one is correct?

I’ve answered this question before. Here is what I wrote: “Both expressions are correct. Flammable and inflammable mean one and the same thing. You can use one in place of the other. Many people mistake inflammable to be the antonym of flammable. They are wrong. The proper antonym of flammable is ‘non-flammable.’ Other alternatives are ‘fireproof’ and ‘incombustible.’”

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Politics of Grammar Column